Leonardo da Vinci    Society Newsletter

editor:  Francis Ames-Lewis


Issue 10,  May 1997

Recent and forthcoming events


The 1997 AGM and Annual Lecture

At the Annual General Meeting, held on Friday 2 May 1997 in Harkness Hall 1, Birkbeck College, Martin Kemp (Oxford) stepped down as President of the Society, a position he has held for about seven years. J.V. Field (Birkbeck College, University of London) was elected to serve in his place. Francis Ames-Lewis (Birkbeck) continues as Vice-President, and Thomas Frangenberg (University of Leicester) as Secretary and Treasurer.                                    Professor Kemp’s departure, for reasons connected with the too numerous calls on his time, does not signal any radical change in the character or aims of the Society. We remain, as ever, informal and interested not only in the work of Leonardo da Vinci but also more generally in all those aspects of the culture of his time to which he made contributions. We hope, moreover, to take account of Leonardo’s reputation for transcending the boundaries of Art and Science and to concern ourselves with such work in other periods also.                                                                                                                                                                             

                   The Society’s 1997 Annual Lecture was given by Dr Evelyn Welch (University of Sussex). Her title was ‘Leonardo and the Ladies of Milan’. Elisabetta Hodgson writes: Although focusing on the Milanese portraits attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Evelyn Welch’s lecture spanned over the wider issue of female visual representation and late quattrocento Sforza patronage. In her characterization of the Milanese Renaissance court, the lecturer emphasised how the women of the dukes of Milan had separate households, and how their mistresses also were given allowances, together with lands and entourages. This explains how women like Lucia Marliani, Cecilia Gallerani and Lucrezia Crivelli were able to alter the balance between wife and mistress, shifting the centre of authority from the legitimate duchess to the favourite mistress.                                                                                    In terms of female portraiture, such overlapping of roles affected the output and character of works like the Lady with an Ermine and La Belle FerronniŹre. Without putting forward any specific names to identify the women portrayed in these paintings, Evelyn Welch dismissed the view that they are official ‘ladies’ of the court: we should rather recognise in these portraits the mistresses of Lodovico Sforza. Although one might recognise a physical resemblance between the women portrayed in La Belle FerronniŹre and the Ambrosiana Profile Portrait of a Lady, the two portraits show significant iconographical and stylistic differences. The precious lavishness of ornament in the Ambrosiana portrait contrasts with the austere lack of jewellery in the FerronniŹre, where the emphasis is on the face, skin and elements of her simple costume.                                  Evelyn Welch’s lecture made an interesting contribution to the current debate on how portraits are produced and what they may have meant both to the sitters and to other beholders. By analyzing the relations between women and court portraiture, she drew a clear distinction between the medallic profile images of ‘official ladies’ of the court, whose role was to establish and maintain the decorum of the court and its behaviour, and the more innovative and naturalistic images of the duke’s mistresses, where the emphasis is on female beauty.

Art and Science in the Italian Renaissance: Vitruvian Studies

This one-day symposium, the seventh in the series organised by the Society in association with the Society for Renaissance Studies, was held at the Warburg Institute, London WC1, on Friday 31 January 1997. Georgia Clarke (Courtauld Institute of Art) writes: The atmosphere at this gathering was more like a friendly seminar than a conference as there was a disappointingly small attendance, but those present enjoyed five informative talks.                               Martin Kemp (University of Oxford) had stepped in to give a paper at relatively short notice but produced nevertheless an engrossing and intensive discussion of Leonardo drawings, starting from the ‘Vitruvian Man’ figure. He showed how Leonardo’s interests lay in developing a complex proportional system linked as much to dynamics as to static relationships. Paul Davies (University of Reading) unravelled the creation of Vitruvius’ name. He revealed the importance of one tradition’s identification of Vitruvius as a Veronese and therefore the implications for an interpretation of some of Verona’s antiquities and their imitation in Renaissance buildings.                                 Vaughan Hart (University of Bath) and Peter Hicks (University of Cambridge) concentrated on the character of Serlio’s illustrations and their links to Vitruvius, before reconstructing the three-dimensional effects of Serlio’s stage designs. The connection with theatre was continued by J.D. Loach (University of Wales, Cardiff) whose work on French sixteenth- and seventeenth-century festivals considered the organising and controlling role of rhetoric.                                                                                                                     The afternoon concluded with a lively and entertaining account by the organiser J.V. Field (Birkbeck College, London) of the complexities and problems involved in Renaissance readers’ attempting to understand how to set out sundials and how little help was provided by Vitruvius’ account of the subject.



Leonardesque News



1997 Lettura Vinciana


The thirty-seventh Lettura Vinciana was given at the Biblioteca Leonardiana at Vinci on 19 April 1997 by Professor Frank Zöllner (University of Leipzig). The title of his lecture was ‘La battaglia di Anghiari: fra mitologia e politica’.



Pierino da Vinci


A lecture on Leonardo da Vinci’s nephew Pierino was delivered by Professor James Fenton at the National Gallery, London, on 19 March 1997. Vivienne Northcote writes: James Fenton, Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, gave a challenging lecture on the life and work of Pierino da Vinci, the nephew of Leonardo. Approaching his subject from the discipline of literature, Professor Fenton discussed Vasari’s interpretation of Pierino and set that within the context of the period. With Leonardo’s death in 1519 and Pierino’s probable birth in 1520/21 or 1531, it cannot be said that there was any direct influence on Pierino by his famous uncle. Indeed, James Fenton quoted Leonardo’s letter to his brother Domenico which indicated Leonardo’s lack of sympathy with developing family life. He suggested that Leonardo’s own illegitimacy had something to do with this attitude. Nevertheless, Pierino was clearly a young man of precocious talent as a draughtsman and sculptor, revealing a knowledge and understanding of the work of Michelangelo. Professor Fenton drew attention to the work of earlier scholars, including John Pope-Hennessy and Charles Avery, and suggested new lines of enquiry for some of the work attributed to Pierino. This was a lecture which opened up a new vision of the place of Pierino da Vinci in the sixteenth century. Perhaps there is room for more scholarly analysis and comparison of stylistic links betweem Leonardo and his nephew, who died tragically young before his promise could be fulfilled.



A second Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in London, Ontario


Following our report in issue 9 (November 1996) of an exhibition on ‘Leonardo da Vinci: the Search for the Soul’, Dr Rolando Del Maestro has informed us of a sequel, on ‘Leonardo da Vinci: The Treatise on Painting’. This exhibition was held at the D.B. Weldon Library of the University of Western Ontario from 20 November 1996 to 31 January 1997. The objectives of the exhibition were ‘to outline the evolution and results of Leonardo’s exploration of the science of painting and to follow the legacy of his Treatise on Painting over four centuries’. It contained thirty-two items related to the conception and diffusion of Leonardo’s ideas on painting, all from Dr Del Maestro’s library of Leonardiana. The exhibits spanned from seventeenth-century treatises dependant on Leonardo’s notes  for the Trattato as compiled by Francesco Melzi in Cod. Urb. Lat. 1270, to recent editions and facsimiles of Leonardo notebooks.



Further on the Society’s Colloquium on equestrian groups, October 1996


As reported in issue 9 (November 1996), initial tests on Mr Ven’s equestrian group, which gave rise to the Colloquium held at the British Museum on 18 October 1996, indicated that the alloy was brass and not bronze. Since these tests, others were carried out in Belgium at the beginning of this year. The results of these tests has not been made available to us, and neither Mr Ven nor his companion Mr Sureda have responded to requests for further information about them. It is however rumoured that one of these tests indicated that the group was sand cast, not cast by the cire perdue technique standard at Leonardo da Vinci’s time. If correct, this evidence can only increase doubts about the late quattrocento origins of the group. The full results of Mr Jean-Marie Welter’s metallurgical tests will be available soon, and will be reported in the next issue of this Newsletter.



Leonardo at thirty


The bi-monthly journal Leonardo, ‘the leading journal for anyone interested in the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts’ celebrates its thirtieth year of publication in 1997. It was founded in 1967 ‘to provide an international channel of communication between artists and others who use science and developing technologies in their creations’. Since its inception, the journal has focused on artists’ use of science and technology and on articles written by artists, ‘seeking to ensure that the artist’s voice will be integral in the development of new technologies’. It covers media, music, kinetic art, performance art, language, environmental and conceptual art, computers and artificial intelligence.

            Leonardo has two companion publications. The Leonardo Electronic Almanac is an on-line subscription-based journal ‘dedicated to providing a forum for those who are interested in the use of new media in contemporary artistic expression, especially involving 20th-century science and technology’. This periodical can be accessed on http://www-mitpress.mit.edu/LEA/home.html. The Leonardo Music Journal is ‘committed to providing a forum for the international community of independent artists and scholars whose work extends the boundaries of musical and artistic disciplines in new and provocative ways’.    In 1995 the Leonardo World Wide Web Site was launched to offer an integrated package of multimedia publishing, incorporating print, sound, on-line art, and information links; the website can be accessed on http://www-mitpress.mit.edu/Leonardo/home.html


LDVHI update


The journal of Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, Inc, The Scribe, VII/1, March 1997 informs us that the sculptor Nina Akamu has been engaged to undertake the final modifications needed on the full-scale, 24' model now at the Tallix foundry, Beacon, NY, in readiness for casting. Some areas of the horse which appeared acceptable in the eight-foot model did not translate into the larger scale as had been expected. Further refinement is needed on parts of the musculature, the veins and the hair. Meanwhile, discussion continues on the possible siting of the Horse in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, and in mid-December 1996 Dr Domenico Lini, the Museum’s director, visited the Tallix foundry to inspect the full-scale model.



EC takes Leonardo’s name in vain


We hear from the ‘informative, behind-the-scenes, policy and future developments newsletter’ of the UK Research and Higher Education European Office that ‘Following its first report on continuing training in the EU, the Commission proposes three initiatives to improve and strengthen access to this type of learning. A consultation process is planned for Autumn 1997, involving representatives of management and labour. MEPs will be presented with a draft Decision to continue assessment of continuing training in the form of a three-yearly report. The Commission plans to focus more on continuing training projects and access to skills in the vocational training programme, LEONARDO DA VINCI, for the period 1998-1999.’ Is this, we wonder, an appropriate way of using Leonardo’s name?

The Leonardo da Vinci Society


Proposals for future events - conferences, symposia, lectures, or other activities that the Society might sponsor or undertake - are always welcomed by the Committee. Please write to any of the officers listed below if you have any suggestions to offer. The Committee is also anxious to recruit new blood to its membership, so if any members would be interested in serving, please will they let us know.

            President: Dr J.V. Field, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; fax 0171.631.6107.

            Vice-President: Dr. Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD. Tel.: 0171.631.6108; fax 0171.631.6107; email: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk

            Secretary/Treasurer: Dr Thomas Frangenberg, Department of History of Art, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester, LE1.7RH, UK. 

            Please send items for publication to the editor of the Leonardo da Vinci Society Newsletter, Francis Ames-Lewis, Department of History of Art, Birkbeck College, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD; fax 0171.631. 6107; email: f.ames-lewis@hart.bbk.ac.uk

            The Leonardo da Vinci Society proposes to undertake a new drive to increase membership. Many recent members have not renewed their subscriptions for 1997. If you have not done so, please send your subscription (standard: £5, students/unwaged: £2.50, institutional: £25) in Sterling to the Secretary/Treasurer at the above address as soon as possible. If you know of colleagues, friends or acquaintances who might wish to know of, and to join, the Society, please let us have their names and addresses.